Back in Vienna, we took some time to look down on life and places with Sarah Walder. Enjoying a top-roof private view over the city, we sat down to talk future perspectives, unpredictabilities and what belonging feels like. Right after graduating, she got the chance to explore the fashion industry from two insider points, as a model and an editor. Her résumé? Well, it may still be way too early for a definite statement, but her assessment as of now is as honest as you can get.
Thanks for having us, Sarah! As we met you just came back from London and were on your way to the alps of East Tyrol. Is Vienna just the right amount of big city and green experience to make you feel at home?
Vienna is a nice city, that’s out of question. According to an international survey it’s even the city with the world’s highest quality of living! But if I had to choose between Vienna and London, it would always be London for me. Sure, Vienna is closer to East Tyrol, the place I grew up in, than London, but that’s it for me. Because neither London nor Vienna can give me what I miss most when being away from East Tyrol: Mountains and nature right in front of my doorstep. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in a big city and it’s great that modeling gives me all those amazing possibilities but there will always be things I miss, and I feel like since I moved away from East Tyrol I have started to appreciate all those things much more. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, they say and as far as I’m concerned, it’s 100% true.
The question about where I feel at home is actually quite a difficult one for me, especially at the moment. I somehow ended up in this state where I don’t know anymore where I am supposed to feel at home. If you had asked me the same exactly one year ago I would’ve answered “East Tyrol” without even thinking about it. But after I’ve graduated from high school in June 2015 everything went super fast and I probably haven’t even fully realised yet what all has happened in this past year. I started travelling straight after graduation and somehow haven’t stopped since. There was no time to let it all sink in, I feel like I haven’t even realised that I actually graduated from high school, haha. The thing is that I don’t really feel at home in East Tyrol anymore but also don’t feel at home in Vienna or another city yet. I mean I always love going back to East Tyrol for a few days or weeks, but I don’t feel like I belong there anymore. And thinking about it makes me really sad because that’s the place where I spent most of my childhood, I have so many good memories. But things have changed and that’s probably just the way everything goes.
Would you say you are more a child of nature or a big-city person, or somehow both? And why so?
I’m probably one of those annoying people who want everything even though that is something that can never be achieved. So I’d say I’m a child of nature that loves living in a big city. I love the vibe of big cities, there’s always so much going on. But god, I miss the mountains, nature (and no, with nature I don’t mean city parks – as beautiful and idyllic as they may be – I’m talking about true, pure nature that’s not under the power of men yet). I miss the dead silence of the nights and their pitch-black colour, because street lamps are being switched off at midnight. I miss going up a mountain in the middle of the night just to look at the stars in the sky (and because there’s no other source of light around you than the stars, you can see them as clear as day; I could spend hours and hours just looking up in the black sky, thinking about life in all its immenseness). I miss the sound of the birds that fills your room when you open the window in the morning and so many more things. If I could live in East Tyrol and go to London for work, that would be the dream haha. It really is high-time somebody discovers how to beam!
So what have you been enjoying the most in and about London?
I don’t know why, but I just felt welcome in London right from the first day and I made a couple of really good friends within weeks. Everybody is super kind and helpful. I remember this one funny (actually not funny but embarrassing) incident on one of my very first days in London when I got lost on the way to my own agency (can you imagine haha). Within seconds a guy, who worked on a construction site, walked towards me and showed me the right direction. I didn’t even have to ask!
I love this positive atmosphere Londoners spread and I love how everybody is so open-minded. Everybody gets their chance there, no matter how crazy an idea or how unconventional a look is. That’s probably also the reason why there’s so many cool and unique things going on in London. I mean just walk around Camden!
You left the UK shortly before the referendum, how much of the debate have you experienced while there? Has the outcome surprised you?
I remember this one day I was hanging out at Camden Market with a friend when two young students walked towards us and asked if they could interview us about our opinion on the referendum for a “vote in” project. And I remember my flatmates being worried about the outcome, especially because not all of them were British citizens.
The actual outcome surprised me, indeed. I knew there were people who were convinced that staying in the EU wouldn’t do any good to Great Britain but in the back of my mind I was always like “Nah, I don’t think it is actually going to happen, I mean come on, they’d never really do that.” and I believe a lot of Brits felt the same way.
You might have seen the poster campaign of Wolfgang Tillmans. One poster read “It’s a question of where you feel you belong”. Wherever it may be, especially with a job that means quite some traveling, what makes you feel like you belong?
There’s this song by Ingrid Michaelson and one line of it goes “They say that home is where the heart is”. Yes, I know that it sounds so cheesy but I actually think it’s true, at least for me. “Heart” doesn’t have to be associated with love at all, though. You can put your heart into everything. Work that fulfills you, good friends, a hobby or yes, of course “love”.
But also the little things you can forget so easily when thinking about where you feel at home play an important role. Like, I start feeling like I belong to a place when I don’t necessarily have to use a map anymore to find my way home. Or when I’ve run out of milk and don’t have to ask Google where the closest grocery shop is. Or when I can tell people about my favourite spots in a city and so on. At this point I could start an endless list of cool places in London, but that would go beyond the scope of this interview…
Modeling is usually not forever. Is there anything of your life as a model that you wish you could keep forever nonetheless? And anything of it you would wish you could give up right away?
What I love about being a model is that you get to know really interesting people with such great minds. I really appreciate that. Also, modeling is anything but a bog-standard job. You basically never know what’s just around the corner and basically anything can happen. It’s kind of like riding a rollercoaster, but with covered eyes. Your life could turn into gold within one second and burn down to a heap of ashes in the next. It’s kind of scary, isn’t it? If there’s something I could trade in against something else it would probably be exactly that uncertainty. The fashion world is so unpredictable, your look may be totally popular in one season and the next season you can already be out of fashion and nobody gives a f*** about you anymore. I mean I know that that’s just how this business works but it really kills me sometimes.
You told us, you have been interning at magazines, too – as a writer. Is fashion still something you’d like to be dealing with in the future then? Or have you something completely different on your mind and in your cards?
Yea that’s true, I did an internship at the look! magazine last autumn, for example. I’ve always enjoyed writing and I’ve been interested in fashion since I was about 14 years old, I think. So that was a great opportunity and actually quite a big thing for me when I got that internship confirmed. If you had told my 15 year old self that I’d be working as an editor at a fashion magazine after high school I would’ve probably called you nuts haha. The sad part about this whole thing though is that after a few months I realized that working in this industry wasn’t going to fulfill me enough to do it as a proper job. I had this little crisis and started asking myself questions like “What’s the point of all of this? There’s people suffering all over the world and so many terrible things happening and you’re just sitting there writing articles about the latest nail polish trend? Really?”. That really doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy writing about fashion etc., I think I was even pretty good at it and my life would probably be so much easier if I’d just kept on doing that, especially because modeling allows you to build an immense network of contacts in the fashion business, which is always helpful (especially in fashion business I sometimes have the feeling that it’s just all about the who knows who, it’s crazy!). But the thing is that it would never be enough for me and I’d never be satisfied with myself.
So I went back to what had always interested me besides fashion and writing, which is basically to find out how the world works because, come on, is there really anything more exciting than that?! That’s why I’ll probably be studying chemistry from this autumn on. At the moment, my dream job is working for the NASA. Or combine it with marine chemistry. But yes it’s probably way too early to think about stuff like that already as I haven’t even started to study yet, haha.
Apart from all of that, I’d love to be an actress! So if there’s any cool movie producers out there reading this right now, hit me up. 🙂
If you were one day to write your memoirs, what episode would you most likely start with?
I have to admit that I feel like I’m a bit too young to answer that question already, who knows what else the universe has in store for me. Sometimes, when I think about what I’ll be doing in one year and where I’m going to be I get really scared because everything is so uncertain and vague. Steve Jobs once compared his life to a road with landmarks and junctions in a speech, all dots, if you like so. Looking forward it’s so hard to connect all those dots and most of the time you have no idea where you are going. But looking back at it, it all becomes very clear and obvious. I think we just have to trust into whatever we believe in – our gut, life, destiny, karma, whatever – and the dots will somehow connect in our future.
I have this idyllic picture in my mind, of me as an old woman sitting in a rocking chair on the veranda of my country home and telling my grandchildren the story of my life. And I’d probably start with that one very significant event or happening, that dot, that, looking backwards, eventually was the beginning of a change in my life, in whatever way. Like back then it was just some insignificant incident but looking back at it as an old woman it was the beginning of something new.
Just because in those memoirs you’d never mention that… If I wouldn’t mention it in my memoirs then why would I mention it on here
But all in all, we all wish a happy ending, so what should the universe hand out to you to make it perfect?
I think perfect is that idealized (mis)construction in our minds that doesn’t exist in real life. Nothing’s ever perfect, there will always be things that bother us and we don’t like, we just have to learn to live with them. If you’re longing for your very own idea of perfect, you will just never be content and happy, and that’s exactly what I want to be. I want to wake up in the morning and feel good about and be content with my life and what I am doing.